30th Roseville Big Bird

30th Roseville Big Bird

30th Roseville Big Bird

At the recent 30th Roseville Big Bird, I was chatting with another old-timer. The name of a race, the Williamston Half Marathon, came up and piqued my interest.

As we noted in yakking that morning, the Williamston races (there was also a 5K) are no longer held. I thought of the many races, especially here in southeast Michigan, which have fallen by the wayside. There were some good ones, ones that bring back fond memories.

While some were smaller local runs, there were bigger races, too. One of the first road races I did was the Jewish Community Center’s Chai (from the Hebrew word for “life”) Runs. If I recall correctly, there were a variety of distances to appeal to runners of all levels: 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, and 18 miles. Run on residential streets and dirt back roads, they attracted quite a few runners. It was there I first met Bob Littky, a runner with an amazing story. Bob had, not once but twice, been pronounced dead on operating tables, yet rebounded, recovered, and has run hundreds of races, including dozens of marathons. (For a short account of his story, see Death Defiers by Selene Yeager, Kelly Garrett, et al.)

Back to Birmingham was another sizable race. It was one of the first races Karen and I ran together. One year we even dragged some friends along, another husband-wife team, with young kids whose ages mirror those of our own. The kids played while the moms and dads ran. I recall that the shirts were always good, too.

More locally for me, a couple miles from our house, was the annual Huron Valley Hospital Fall Fitness Frenzy, 5K and 10K races. There were ten years of them and I ran each one. Originally, the runs were in the late June, but the 105-degree day back in 1989 (?) led to the change to October. Race directors Craig Aittama and Michaelene Raczka didn’t award medals, ribbons, or plaques to overall and age-group winners. Top finishers, over the years, received towels, key chains, hats (with finishing places printed on them), and even cooking trivets. How cool!

One of my all-time favorite races is no longer run, either—and it wasn’t intended to run more than once. It was the brainchild of Ed Kozloff, to whom Michigan runners owe so much. Run the Reuther was a 5K on I 696, in Warren I believe. On I 696, the expressway? Yep, it was run on Sunday, the day before the east-west connector in the northern Detroit suburbs was opened to vehicular traffic. The tee shirt is one of a handful I haven’t given to charities. Two things stand out for me. One, the start was delayed for about 45 minutes due to the rush of race day registration. Several thousand showed up for this unique event. I think my tee shirt was mailed to me because race officials ran out. Two, boxes of Prince elbow macaroni were distributed before the race (don’t ask).

Another one-time race was the Super Bowl Run at the Silverdome back in 1982. A fierce overnight snowstorm led to two starts, one at the scheduled time and another later to accommodate the hundreds delayed by the weather and dangerous roads.

Milford had its Mill Valley 10K, back before the suburban growth of the area. Quickly leaving the quaint village, the run covered the dirt back roads. I remember the late Bob Taylor, who could be found daily running or walking on the bike paths of Kensington Metropark well into his 80s, often wearing his Mill Valley tees during his workouts.

Oh, there are so many others, too, and just here in southeast Michigan: the Carrie Nation in Holly, Rouge River Runs in Redford, High Five in Highland (with three separate races: men’s, women’s, masters’), Briarwood in Ann Arbor, Chauncey Longwhite in Detroit on Belle Isle, Harvest Run in Dearborn, Wayne State’s Mad Anthony (the “Mad Anthony Wayne” tees were great), Whitmore Lake to Brighton, Emily Gail’s Pooh runs in Downtown Detroit (“Say Nice Things about Detroit”), and many more in other parts of the state. And who remembers the Scotty Hanton Marathon in Port Huron (also with a half marathon) and the Stockbridge Marathon, back in the ‘70s?

How many races have evolved as variations of themselves, changing distances, venues, and even names? For instance, the West Bloomfield Half Marathon began as a full marathon before downsizing and as recently become the WB Rock ‘n’ Road 5K, 10K. There are others.

It’s then remarkable to see races like the Free Press Marathon, the Crim, the Oak Apple (Royal Oak), Big Bird, Old Kent/Fifth Third, and Dexter-Ann Arbor celebrate 30 and more years. Some have had some rocky periods, but they survived and appear to be strong. Road racing, I guess, has evolved like everything else.